It’s hump day for the 2014 Bitch Awards. Today we unveil our number three films.
Click through to find out which films came in at the mid-way point.
Sadly, for a second time a Cronenberg film makes my worst list. And it’s partly because I just expected better from a filmmaker who I once so admired. Where’s the Cronenberg who made Videodrome (1983), A History of Violence (2005) or Eastern Promises (2007)? Instead, we have Maps to the Stars, a mean-spirited, downright unpleasant romp through the seedy underbelly that is Los Angeles. Following an aging starlet, Havana, (Julianne Moore, who still turns in an impressive performance, all things considered) as she tries to get back into the limelight by taking on a role that her mother (Sarah Gadon) originated. This is hardly an original premise, but let’s face it – the Hollywood machine is so ripe with intrigue, there could be dozens of films made on the same subject matter (and there are) and the material would still be fresh. But Maps to the Stars is decidedly not fresh – it’s chalked full of highly unlikeable characters that the film just drags on from one uninteresting plot point to another.
As I said, Moore is committed to the role whole-heartedly, but Havana is so whiny and annoying that it’s impossible to feel invested in her. The subplot of wallflower Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) feels completely out of place, so when her plot converges with Havana’s at the film’s arguable climax, it’s hard to care. Instead it just feels – for lack of better word – icky. Everyone is just so insufferable through this film that I just couldn’t wait for it to end. Every bad stereotype about ‘the business’ is represented here – from smarmy, entitled brats who make up ‘young Hollywood’ to the money-grubbing agents who’ve long since lost their humanity. The whole film-going experience felt nauseating – steer far away from this one.
I love Heathers. I love Mean Girls. I love Young Adult fiction. I love vampires.
I do not love this movie.
Because this film is shit.
Vampire Academy continues to suck away at the goodwill built-up by YA film adaptations of The Hunger Games and, to a lesser extent, Divergent. It’s on par with last year’s terrible trifecta: The Mortal Instruments, Beautiful Creatures and The Host and that is sad company to keep. The film accomplishes this uneviable achievement by incorporating a ludicrous number of terrible YA adaptation tropes. The plot is relatively inconsequential, but essentially the action centers around a Hogwarts-like school for vampires and their human protectors. The vampires are all vaguely European-looking (in the grand tradition of the Underworld films), sport late 90s hair and are generally f*cktards because they’re rich and spoiled. Like last year’s awful selection, there’s a tortured romance (except here the male lead isn’t even hot), there’s bad CGI aplenty and the plot barely makes any sense (slavish devotion to the source text often collides with the need to create scenes that play well cinematically, which creates a jarring viewing experience).
The most disappointing aspect of this film is its behind the scenes pedigree. The film is from the Waters brothers, who should have a handle on this kind of property considering their experiences (Daniel wrote Heathers; Mark directed Mean Girls). Unfortunately the script is completely derivative – part of which can be attributed to the book, which was a questionable choice to adapt (vampires are done and YA adaptations have been decidedly more miss than hit of late). Still, there’s no sense of wit or playfulness; the film is full steam ahead in its awful earnestness and the direction itself lacks visual panache or technical prowess. It honestly feels like it could have been written and directed by anyone!
Finally, there’s one more key factor that contributes to Vampire Academy‘s total failure: lead actress Zoey Deutch, who single handedly ruined The CW’s guilty-pleasure atrocity, Ringer (RIP), a few years ago. Even her voice-over narration is awful! Epic fail.
Birdman has everything going for it – a great cast, vibrant and layered characters, a witty, self-reflexive premise, smart writing and an amazing director who has quite the filmic resume behind him (including Biutiful (2010) a gorgeous film that made my best list two years ago). But at the end of the day, Birdman is just a great film.
The premise isn’t too far off, ironically enough, from Maps to the Stars, where aging star Riggan (Michael Keaton), whose claim to fame was a role he did back in the 90s as superhero ‘Birdman’, readies his triumphant return by mounting a Broadway play he’s written, directed and stars in. If we were to slot the film into a genre, it’s definitely a backstage film – which is rare to see nowadays. Iñárritu rarely uses cuts, which mimics not only the liveness of a theatrical production, but further augments the chaos and exhaustion that follows any play going through previews. It’s ingenious and contributes to the film being an experience rather than just a passive, flickering image.
At the centre of the film is Keaton’s performance, which is chalked full of nuance and complexity – the award accolades that he’s receiving are well deserved. Most of the supporting performances in the film are also phenomenal, from Zach Galifianakis to Naomi Watts. Edward Norton is the real gem, bringing tangible exuberance to every scene he’s in. I didn’t particularly care for Emma Stone, who plays Riggan’s whiny daughter Sam – her character (and performance) Is far too clichéd for my liking. Everyone else is performing at such a high level, that it’s probably just a case of Stone being unable to measure up – which is hardly a bad problem to have.
Iñárritu, as always, delivers a film that you can’t help but think about and relish in, which is why I happily have it on my best list for this year.
Whenever I talk about a film with a twist, I always deliberate about whether or not to mention it. I have here, not because it’s a spoiler, but rather because the twist is the film.
The One I Love is a relationship drama with a sci-fi twist. A couple, Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss), whose marriage is on the brink of collapse, escapes to a secluded vacation house for the weekend and discover a big surprise in the guest house. That surprise has the potential to save their relationship…or expedite its demise.
It’s a very simple film anchored by two rock solid performances. The film requires Moss and Duplass to balance a range of comedic and dramatic moments and both prove more than capable of handling the subtle nuances. As the weekend progresses, the stakes and the tension rise and the film turns into something darker and more complicated.
What’s surprising is that The One I Love is both a directorial debut and nearly entirely ad-libbed. Charlie McDowell has made an incredibly self-assured first film out of what is purported to be a 50 page spec script, guiding and supporting Moss and Duplass’ amazing performances, which were developed in rehearsal. The finished product is completely unexpected: a relationship drama that employs a sci-fi component to produce a rich, thought-provoking film. The One I Love is my choice for the most pleasantly unexpected film of the year. It flew mostly under the radar, so I strongly encourage audiences to seek it out.
We’re over the hump, now! What do you think of our choices so far? Come back tomorrow for the runner’s up list and chime in with your picks.